The Saudi-led military coalition against Yemen’s Houthi rebels declared a two-week ceasefire in Yemen starting Thursday in a bid to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, a senior Saudi official said.
“We are announcing a ceasefire starting [Thursday] for two weeks. We are expecting the Houthis [Yemeni rebels] will accept. We are preparing the ground to fight COVID-19” in Yemen, the official said.
The unilateral ceasefire will begin at 0900 GMT on Thursday, he added. The Saudi-led military coalition has been active in the conflict in support of the Yemeni government of Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2015.
The United Nations has accused the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates with support from the United States and Great Britain, of possible war crimes following several incidents of civilians being targeted in deadly air raids.
The Houthis on Wednesday made no immediate statement on their participation on the ceasefire.
The coalition was committed to a two-week ceasefire but still reserved the right to defend itself if it came under attack, the Saudi official said.
The ceasefire may be extended if the Houthis respond “positively” to the gesture, he added.
Yemen’s broken healthcare system has so far recorded no cases of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic.
The country is already gripped by what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Fighting recently escalated again between the Huthis and Riyadh-backed Yemeni troops around the strategic northern districts of Al-Jouf and Marib, ending a months-long lull.
Saudi air defenses intercepted Yemeni rebel missiles over Riyadh and the border city of Jizan late last month, leaving two civilians wounded in the curfew-locked capital, state media reported.
The Saudi-led coalition has been unable to dislodge Houthi control over much of Yemen’s north, despite heavy airstrike campaigns and a land, sea and air blockade.
The U.S. accuses Iran of arming the Houthis with ballistic, anti-tank and anti-air missiles in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
With reporting from AFP